Disappointing After Raincliff****
BASED ON COMPLETED GAME
A big disappointment after the spectacular Raincliff, which remains one of the best games ever released, Black Isle fails to live up to the developer’s reputation. Although it has many of the great elements of the other Mystery Tracker games, it is sadly lacking in crucial areas.
SIGHTS & SOUNDS
By far the worst sin this game commits is in its visuals. They are just annoying. The artistic talent is there, but the technical quality is poor in parts, and many of both the locations and HOP scenes are lit in irritating ways that make it hard to see and concentrate. Also in the HOP scenes, items bleed into each other by having too much gold and/or shiny surfaces, so that again, it is hard to look at. Many are dark, static scenes, with rain further interfering with the eyes. That they can do better is obvious by the quality of the opening segments, by previous games like Raincliff, and even by certain scenes of breathtaking beauty in this. I cannot imagine a sound reason for this approach.
The background sounds also drove me nuts in the end. There is only so much torrential downpour and thunder my nerves can take, and allowing that the game is one of the longer games I’ve played (or did it just seem that way?), it is just too much. There is little else to give us a break from it even when we are indoors. The music comes on only sporadically, but it is good and appropriately ominous. The voiceover, at the beginning, is well acted, but a far cry from being lip synched.
In what is becoming a tradition for this series, we start with a news report, and this time it is the reporter herself who is kidnapped, right before our eyes. The supposedly deserted island harbours at least one cloaked and masked phantom, and we, agent of the quasi-secret Mystery Trackers group, are in pursuit. But given the weather, and the clearly paranormal abilities of our adversary, we are in for a hard time. And prepare yourself for some interesting surprises at the end of this one. For fans of the later Mystery Tracker games, this is where we first meet Agent Elf.
This is a game of evenly balanced HOPs and other puzzles/mini-games. Some of the instructions for the puzzles are vague and I found myself wishing for a strategy guide, which I’d normally never use. And there is an adventure component that is a bit more challenging as well. The HOPs are interactive word lists, in which some items will only be made available by the use of inventory items, which is a nice twist, and one that stumped me for a bit.
The interactive jump map is terrible. It opens on only 3 almost invisibly defined large areas, from which you must choose your location. In the locations, you get objectives yet to be completed, not where you can act next. And in any case, you must move in and out of those larger areas to get around. I found it more frustrating than simply backtracking. The hint gives specific suggestions for your next task, but does not take you there (that’s a luxury for later games), and surprisingly, I found even that annoying. Finding the room the hint function is referring to was sometimes a little crazy-making. (Poor game, couldn’t do anything right by me, could it?)
On a personal note, I hated that the cute owls we see everywhere were only collectible in the Collector’s Edition. It drove me nuts! And some of them are so cute.
Much of the game is very good. It is an engaging story, which flows at a reasonable pace, although I felt bogged down by the more difficult gameplay. The special effects are excellent, the acting good. The gameplay sufficiently challenging to interest expert players, without being out of bounds for lesser mortals. It is also a long complex game offering intrigue. Mostly, what it isn’t is a game that is visually all it could be. This had the makings of another Raincliff, but the devs simply didn’t pull it off.
For my personal experience, I’d rate this a three. But for many players it will be much better than that, so I’ll give it a recommended four.
I recommend this game!